Tom Paulett just finished his senior year as a Princeton lightweight. Paulett sat 5-seat in their Varsity 8 and the crew went undefeated over the year, winning the Head of the Charles, Eastern Sprints, IRA's, and the Temple Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta. As best as row2k can tell, they were the first American collegiate lightweight crew to pull off the feat and win each regular season race.
row2k sat down with Paulett for a quick interview to get his thoughts on the season and his plans for the future.
row2k: You just completed your senior season in which your Varsity 8 went unbeaten. What was the highlight of the season for you and why?
Tom Paulett: Its easiest to point to those big victories as they are a culmination of the work and emotion of a season. Personally, the wins at Sprints and IRAs are the most meaningful. They have been the focus of four years of work. The goal of every year is to perform well at Sprints and IRAs and the success and memory of the year is really determined by those two performances. The races also have a ton of tradition especially at the Princeton boathouse as the walls of the boathouse are covered with posters of past crews who won.
row2k: The previous two years, the V8 finished 7th and 4th at IRA's. At what point did you start to think you had something special with this year's crew?
Tom Paulett: The past two years were a learning experience and while we were in the mix for medals both years, we just fell a bit short each time. Two years ago we had a good crew, having good races throughout the regular season and then getting a bronze medal at Sprints but really disappointed ourselves with our performance in the IRA heats which took us out of the running for the Grand Final. It was a motivating experience for all of us returning the next year and we turned that into a strong regular season and a silver medal at Sprints. Last year at the IRA, we made the final and really pushed the pace of the race through the final 500 but again came up short to some very good crews and again were able to learn from that.
With those experiences in mind, we didn't sit back and think about how good we might be as we had learned from brutal experience that competition in the Sprints Lightweight league is unforgiving. Throughout the year we really took each accomplishment in stride, being proud of the success but more importantly using it as another test in which to make us faster and figure out other aspects of our rowing and racing. Even after winning a race as tough and important as the HYP, we went right back to work to gain more speed and we that same mentality forward after winning the Sprints as we knew that it would be even harder to win the IRA. It was not until after that IRA final that we could really take a moment to appreciate how special the year was.
row2k: In the Temple Cup at Henley, the Tigers had the lightest crew and the heaviest coxswain in the event. What was the racing like over there and how satisfying was it to beat bigger and stronger than you?
Tom Paulett: As to the point of the coxswain, there was no amount of weight that would have compensated for the skill of our cox, Dave Cleveland. I would make the bold claim that there is no better coxswain in the Sprints league or amongst any crews racing at the Henley. Dave brought a lot of technical skill of coxing but really excelled in the intangibles of racing and added a ton of speed to the boat.
We had some experience racing heavyweights as we usually lined up against the Princeton heavies on Wednesday Speed Orders, but it was definitely a bit of a shock to show up to the line at Henley and see some of those big guys next to us. The reality of it didn't set in until our semi-final race against A.S.R. Nereus when the night before the race, Greg had told us that, based on the weights in the program, this was the crew closest in weight to us. After the race, however, as the Nereus crew came over to shake our hands on the dock, we learned that they might have been lighter than the crews we had already raced, but they also seemed to average about 6'6". In the end, we didn't focus on the weight difference and instead just raced like we had all year and were incredibly happy and proud to come away with an amazing win at Henley.
row2k: Any interesting stories from the year that are fit for print?
Tom Paulett: Our trip to Henley provided a lot of down time especially for our spares, Pat Ryan and Brian Kenney. During this time, Pat seemed to be trying to test Coach Greg's patience as much as possible. His pestering culminated in modeling a pair of Greg's shorts, which were much too short for him. I can provide a humiliating and embarrassing picture of him posing if you need...
row2k: You were at Princeton for the entirety of the Greg Hughes era as head coach of the Lightweights. What are some things you will always remember of him, and how do you think he will handle the transition over to coaching the Heavies?
Tom Paulett: It was truly a privilege to show up in the small window in which Greg was the Lightweight coach - he was able to take a program that didn't make a final at Sprints or IRAs and over four years create a great team atmosphere. He will definitely be able to bring that same sort of success to the heavyweights. He created a great culture within the Lightweight team of hard work and competition and we were able to get faster each day and each year.
I hope that the things that I will always remember of him are exactly those things that make him successful as a coach: his focus on being tough, training hard, and sportsmanship regardless of result. His manner of coaching is really pretty simple yet incredibly valuable for life outside of rowing. And if I forget those important lessons, I will always remember some of his catch phrases: "figure it out," "side by each," and the ever-important "ftb whackadoo."
row2k: Now that you career at Princeton is over, what are your plans for the future? Any thoughts on about the national team?
Tom Paulett: I guess that I can't get enough of Princeton, I'm going to be heading back up in a few weeks. I'll be helping out the Princeton coaches around the boathouse and training for the national team. I'm pretty excited about the new challenges and the opportunity to continue rowing.
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08/12/2009 8:42:02 PM
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